May 24, 2024
Press Coverage

Taxpayers bought $1,863 office chair

Taxpayers bought $1,863 office chair

Chris Good--the city's former general manager of corporate services who retired earlier this year.

Chris  Good–the city’s  former  general  manager  of  corporate  services  who  retired  earlier  this  year.

Photograph by: Calgary Herald Archive, Calgary Herald Archive


Calgary taxpayers last year paid $28,076 for a one-day speaker’s event for top city bureaucrats,$1,863 for a general manager’s office chair, $390 for magazines in one department and thousands of dollars for managers’ meals and hotel stays, expense records show. 


The details for the city manager and six general managers, obtained through freedom of information requests, follow a Herald investigation into the expenses of Mayor Dave Bronconnier and the 14 aldermen.

The latest records offer insight into how the top seven managers and their staff spent their budgets on conferences, meals, furniture and staff recognition.

How city hall spends our taxes


Thursday: How your aldermen are spending their budgets.


Friday: What Mayor Dave Bronconnier spent tax dollars on.


Today: The city manager’s and six general managers’ expenses.


Included in that spending is $28,076 from the budget of Chris Good–the city’s former general manager of corporate services who retired earlier this year–on a one-day speaker’s event for top employees in her department.

That total covered $17,647 paid for speaker fees, flights and hotel stays to bring in Bill Jensen, an author who lectures on "making it easier for managers and employees to work smarter and accomplish extraordinary feats," according to his online profile.


Another $10,429 was spent on a meeting room and refreshment costs at the Delta Calgary South hotel.


Eric Sawyer, the city’s acting general manager of corporate services, said the day was about developing leadership in the department.


"For one small investment for a day, I think it’s a really good thing, and it’s something we’ll look to do again in the future," he said.


Dan Kelly, a spokesman for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a probusiness lobby group, said the cost could be justified if he noticed improved efficiency at City Hall.

"For $28,000, it seems like one of the best ways to be doing more with less might be to cancel this speaker."


Allan Maslove, a professor of public policy at Carleton University in Ottawa, said workshops for top employees aren’t unusual and can build team spirit and boost productivity. Whether Jensen’s speech achieved that would be difficult to determine, he said.


"That sounds a little bit on the high side for a one-day event, but it’s hard to really know for sure."

Good also billed the city for a$1,863 chair from McCrum’s Office Furnishings.


Sawyer said Good was judicious about her spending, particularly because she oversaw the city’s books.


Brad Stevens, general manager of asset management and capital works, spent $41,075 on training and staff development, including money toward an MBA for an employee and a quarterly "leaders’ forum."

Stevens said the quarterly events offer more bang for the buck than conferences.


He also gave $17,500 in performance bonuses to eight employees, and spent $1,488 on golf passes to city courses as a staff reward.


David Watson, general manager of planning, development and assessment, spent $9,362 on a trip with Bronconnier to the Middle East to learn about building cities, including a $2,767 charge at Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace Hotel.

"Really, if there’s another city that has more cranes than Calgary, it’s Abu Dhabi," he said. "There’s some interesting things we saw–both what to do and what not to do."


City manager Owen Tobert charged $1,465 for a stay at a Hilton hotel in Quebec City last year for two different conferences, including one for the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators, on whose board he sits.


Any top city employee needs to branch out to bring the best return to Calgary, Tobert said. "Society doesn’t run on people staying home. Society runs based on people interacting."


Rob Pritchard, general manager of utilities and environment, billed $252 from The Original Paul’s Pizza in Ramsay to bring pizza to workers on a shift change.

"I could just show up at shift changewithoutanypizza, butit’s just that little added extra touch they appreciate," he said.


John Hubbell, GM of transportation, used his budget to buy$390 in magazines for his department, including Money-Sense, BusinessWeek and the Harvard Business Review.


"It’s a matter of being able to keep abreast of what’s going on in the business world and the business of transportation," said spokeswoman Vickie Megrath about the expenses.

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